After a flare up between Metropolitan Transportation Authority management and Transit Workers Union Local 100 leadership over allegations of fraudulent overtime claims, officials are now taking aim at what they say is the lack of worker availability, which they say is the prime cause of overtime.
At the July 24 meeting of the MTA Board, Chairman Pat Foye said that based on recent reports he had gotten from the authority’s operating agencies, “the data indicated that over the last 10 years and beyond, average employee availability has consistently trended down to current levels.”
$418M Jump in OT
The overtime battle began in May, when the Empire Policy Center, a conservative think-tank, reported that the MTA had experienced a $418-million spike for 2018, up 16 percent from the previous year.
Mr. Foye’s comments came in the midst of contract negotiations with Local 100. The agency is also facing the prospect of a $1-billion budget shortfall by 2023 as it undertakes an ambitious reorganization that its consultant estimated would require the elimination of 2,700 jobs to save a half-billion dollars.
When the issue of the spike in overtime first surfaced, the union said it was a direct result of years of MTA management putting off badly needed repairs and maintenance. Once it committed to a subway action plan, Local 100 officials said, they still shortchanged the staffing requirements.
Fewer People, More OT?
“You hired about 700 to 800 transit workers, but you were supposed to hire 2,000,” said John Samuelsen, an MTA Board member and president of Local 100’s parent union. “When you want to increase service delivery and you want to increase the state of repair of the track and you need 2,000 bodies and you don’t hire them, you know what you do? You pay overtime.”
At the July meeting, Mr. Foye said union workers averaged between 198 and 208 days, or roughly 40 weeks a year of availability, “subtracting vacation days, sick days, holidays, injured on the job.”
“Availability impacts overtime because employees who are out must be backfilled, usually on overtime,” he said. “To be clear, most overtime is authorized, appropriate and performed, although there have been instances of abuse as noted in prior internal investigations.”
He continued, “Low levels of availability are largely the result of contractual provisions and collective-bargaining agreements and correspondingly high and growing levels of overtime.”
Utano Fires Back
His analysis was blasted by TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano.
“These are not desk jobs like what MTA Chairman Pat Foye has where the most serious injury he might get is a paper cut,” Mr. Utano said in an email. “These are hard, difficult, dirty, stressful and often dangerous jobs. Instead of bashing workers, Foye and the MTA should focus on improving safety for subway and bus workers.”
He continued, “He should declare a Zero Tolerance approach to assaults against subway and bus worker assaults and once and for all lay out a comprehensive, multi-faceted plan to stop the onslaught of spitting, punching and other abuse that comes our way for wearing an MTA uniform.”
Mr. Utano credited the MTA for recently detailing 500 extra police officers to the subways and on bus routes but said “more needs to be done. Our members can’t do their jobs from the emergency room. “
He said the MTA also needed to look at how its own “excessive discipline, particularly in Rapid Transit Operations” was undermining productivity with “approximately 3,000 write-ups last year for approximately 6,000 RTO workers. That’s insane.”
The Empire Policy Center overtime report cited one LIRR official making $344,147 in overtime last year beyond his salary of $117,499. Four of the MTA’s top earners were with the LIRR and ranged from $380,407 to $461,646.
At one point, the agency’s police department detailed officers to time-clock locations to avert fraud.
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